It was that unslakable thirst to compete that led Carlyle into coaching. After his playing career finished with the Jets during the 1992-93 season, Carlyle moved into the team’s front office. He says he worked at several positions, from player development to broadcast analyst to scouting before the realization of what he wanted and needed to do came during a scouting trip.
“I was driving down the road from Springfield to Manchester, N.H.,” Carlyle said. “It was a Sunday afternoon and I’d been on the road for four or five days. I said to myself, ’What am I doing? I’m not doing this any more.’ So I decided I’m going to get into coaching.
“Coaching is the closest thing to being a player, bar none. You go in and you’re at ice level, you travel with the team, you’re with the group.”
Carlyle took the beliefs forged in Northern Ontario to coaching. One was loyalty. Both he and his wife Corey are from the Sudbury area and Carlyle still spends time with the same group of friends he had as a teenager when they go back home or to their cottage on Manitoulin Island. His chief assistant coach is Dave Farrish, who was with Carlyle when he coached the Anaheim Ducks to the 2007 Stanley Cup and was his teammate on the 1975-76 Sudbury Wolves and the Maple Leafs.
Another belief is in the separation between coaches and players. But that is not absolute, even if anyone watching Carlyle shout at the Leafs in practice or run them through a bag skate may not be sure.
“I think there’s a line there,” Carlyle said. “You can be the players’ friend and you can care about them but you’re in the position where you have to provide leadership and leadership sometimes takes on a different face. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s a kick, sometimes it’s a laugh, sometimes it’s a poke.
“I still want to be their friend to the extent where they respect what we’re doing and what our staff is doing. I think that’s important because if they don’t trust and respect what we’re doing, then you have difficulties.”
This is a change from Carlyle’s first days as an NHL head coach, back in 2005 when he started with the Ducks. There were more veterans on that team than on the youthful Leafs. But one thing that has not changed is Carlyle’s belief in one set of rules for both the stars and the role players.
“It’s all about team with Randy. He’s always been about team,” said Arniel, who is now an assistant coach with the New York Rangers. “I can see he has a lot more patience now than what he had in the past, probably because he’s got a much younger team than he had in the past.
“That’s hard to do because you want to win. There’s pressure to win now, especially in that market. That’s one thing about him, he knows if he needs to change his style a bit he can do that.”
Another thing is Carlyle’s ability to shut out the noise that comes in the Toronto market. Such as back in January, when the Leafs were losing and talk of his future dominated all forms of media. Now, although the Leafs’ two overtime losses on last week’s road trip tempered things a little, Carlyle is back on top in the eyes of the fans.
“I’ve been criticized a long time,” Carlyle said. “Some of it hurts, some of it doesn’t. But you don’t show that, you move on. In my skewed way of looking at it, I can’t control that.
“I can control how hard this coaching staff works and the effort we put into preparing this group and in how hard they’re going to work.”
All of that work, Carlyle says, is “about earning respect back for this organization.” When he was hired March 2, 2012, after a stunning slide out of playoff contention by the Leafs under Ron Wilson, Carlyle saw that as the top priority, something that is starting to come now that he has kept the Leafs in playoff position for all of this season.
“I’ve said that from Day 1. I believe that,” he said. “As a guy from the outside looking on, the way things were going, the ups and downs, I knew when I got the opportunity this is what we have to do: earn the respect back for this organization.
“We do it with an honest day’s work, an honest day’s pay, all those old-school principles that I believe are true today.”
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